Update - 1/16/15: Just a couple of hours after posting this blog, some big news broke on the BP trial. Judge Barbier issued his ruling on Phase 2 of the trial, which concluded back in October 2013 and was focused on the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf and the response and recovery to the disaster. The Judge ruled that BP released 134 million gallons of oil during the disaster (higher than what BP's lawyers had argued, and less than what the government's lawyers contended), and that BP was not grossly negligent in its response to the disaster.
As mentioned below, Judge Barbier has already found BP grossly negligent for their actions leading to the blowout. This new ruling that BP was not guilty of gross negligence in their response to the disaster is essentially saying that BP is no different than others in the industry. The fact that no one was adequately prepared to respond to the blowout is an indictment of the federal government and their failure to adequately police a risk-taking, profit-driven industry with tremendous political influence; and an industry that invests billions in exploration and drilling while ignoring what happens when something goes wrong. Nearly five years since the disaster, we have yet to implement the rigorous reforms that are needed to protect the Gulf, the Arctic, the Atlantic seaboard, or any other area from the dangers of offshore drilling.
BP has shown a pattern of contesting and appealing every decision in this case and the Judge made a decision based on the evidence that he believes will hold up on appeal. The bottom line is that this ruling still puts BP on the hook for spilling a huge amount of oil into the Gulf and we hope to see the court hold them to the maximum fines possible under the law in the third phase of the BP trial.
See my original blog post below:
On Tuesday, January 20, the third phase of the BP drilling disaster civil trial is set to begin. The final results of this trial will determine (pending any appeals) how many billions of dollars BP and other responsible parties owe in Clean Water Act fines for the 2010 disaster. Under the RESTORE Act, 80% of the Clean Water Act fines from the drilling disaster are slated to come back to the Gulf for restoration.
Although BP has paid out some economic claims and begun to pay for restoration under a process called the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, it has yet to pay a single dime in Clean Water Act civil penalties. Economic and NRDA payments are focused on restoring the damage they’ve done, but Clean Water Act penalties are meant to be punitive and deter future misconduct. Government lawyers are arguing that, in part due to the reckless nature of BP’s actions leading to the disaster, that BP should pay the maximum fines under the law. BP and its lawyers are doing everything they can to minimize the penalties they pay. Over the coming weeks, these arguments will play out in court. Depending on presiding Judge Carl Barbier’s ruling, the fines could range from $5 to $18 billion.
Judge Barbier has already ruled that the BP disaster “was the result of [BP’s] gross negligence or willful misconduct.” You can say that again! Despite BP’s best efforts to obscure the truth, those of us who live, work and play along the Gulf coast are still feeling the long lasting impacts from BP’s “gross negligence.” A recent study pointed to a 1,200 square mile “bathtub ring” of oil on the bottom of the Gulf around the site of the blowout. Just a couple of days ago, my colleague Jonathan Henderson documented tar balls washed up on the shore of Grand Isle, Louisiana (see picture).
BP must be held accountable for their actions and we’re going to keep fighting to make sure that happens. You can get involved right now by signing this petition calling on BP to come clean! We’re planning on delivering this petition to BP in the near future, so don’t wait to take action.
For a more in-depth look at what’s going on with the BP drilling disaster trial, check out this piece by the Environmental Law Institute (and thanks to ELI for providing a lot of great information that I used in this blog). Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on what’s going on during the trial.
Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Communications Director.